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Recent high school grad sparks idea for 'Buddy System' at Ames elementary school

Some of us didn’t have someone to look up to as a while in school. But at Edwards Elementary, that's not the case — all thanks to a recent high school grad.

AMES, Iowa — Growing up in school, some didn’t have anyone to look up to as a mentor. But at Edwards Elementary School in Ames, that’s not the case — thanks to a recent high school grad.

David Lee, a recent Ames High School graduate, came up with an idea to start a program for students and teachers to connect with each other more on a personal level.

“When I started elementary school here in Ames, I had just moved from Korea, and I didn’t speak English," Lee explained.

He moved to the U.S. back in 2011 with his mother and brother and started first grade at an elementary school in Ames, but with limited confidence in his interactions with both his teachers and his peers.

Lee told Local 5 that he wished there had been a program when he was in elementary school where he could have looked up to his teachers as mentors as well. 

So, he created a student-teacher "Buddy Program," which Edwards Elementary second-grade teacher Laura Clausen heard about and translated over to her school last academic year.

"We love to connect people, we love to make sure that they’re growing, and learning," Clausen said. "This creates a situation where they feel good about their emotional and social [health], and that carries over into academics.”

Here's how Edwards Elementary School's program works:

Clausen and the other teachers at select six or seven students (preferably outside their classroom to meet more students at school) to take under their wing, and understand them better by sharing notes, dropping by to talk to them in class or giving them candy.

The program has been a success, for both the teachers and students.

Clausen explained that "There’s just a buzz. Kids talk about it. They talk about who their connection person is with each other."

And for Owen Frerichs and Joseph Davis, it's Clausen.

“When I’m having trouble or having a bad day, Ms. Clausen will make my day a little bit better," said sixth grader Joseph Davis.

“If you’re feeling sad and like nobody wants to like hangout with you or be with you, then you have a buddy teacher that will write letters to you," Frerichs added.

Clausen also said the nice thing about mentoring students outside her normal class is that she gets to know more students' behavior to further help her colleagues.

"I can go talk to the other teachers of the students that I have mentored, and I can say: ‘Hey, did you know this about this child in your classroom?’ And that gives them that connection, too," she explained.

Even though Edwards Elementary is out on summer break, Clausen still sees her students she mentors out in the community at places like the pool, Hy-Vee and on walks in the neighborhood.

"It’s just fun to get to see them outside of school as well," she said.

In terms of behavioral success, leaders at Edwards Elementary told Local 5 that the school's behavior events went down 42% after this program started. A few examples of behavior events include fighting, disrespectful behavior and bullying. 

For Lee and Clausen, that statistic means their collaboration on the "Buddy Program" has been a success.

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